“Sleeping With Other People” is a charmless rom-com or charmless sex-com or perhaps even a raunch-com. The thing is the movie is never quite sure what notes it wants to hit so it goes after everything.
But it does accomplish one thing: It makes you realize how considerable Amy Schumer’s achievement was in “Trainwreck.”
For “Trainwreck,” which she wrote, managed to cover the same territory — the theme of commitment phobia amid raunchy sex scenes and cringe-inducing embarrassments — with such a light, humane touch that you always felt good about all her characters.
Well, not the actors who bring a certain charm to their roles, enough to make you peeved that writer-director Leslye Headland (“Bachelorette”) has burdened them with so much insensitivity and gauche behavior.
Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie play a couple that had a one-night stand back in 2002 on a Columbia University dormitory rooftop (each losing his and her virginity in the process), then meet up in present day at a 12-step program for sex addicts.
There is more than a hint that both got somewhat frozen in time by this encounter: He never quite found anyone else quite so enticing and open and lovely as her and she has yet to get over her college crush that brought her to the dorm in the first place, a smug OB-GYN played by Adam Scott with a really creepy moustache.
Anyway it seems neither one can stay committed for any time at all. But they decide to semi-reform their mutual ways by not sleeping with each other at least, choosing to stay friends for many months.
Okay, you see where this is going: They become emotionally intimate yet are the last ones to realized they are actually in love. Sort of a “When Harry Met Sally” updated to the era of Judd Apatow R-rated raunch.
Which would be just fine if only their behavior when not with each other did not grow increasingly indefensible. Without going into gruesome details, the point is that Headland unlike Schumer has no feel for tone or subtle suggestion. She rams her characters into situations and thoughtless comments that demean them in a viewer’s eyes.
You have no empathy with anyone who pursues a woman (Amanda Peet) with seeming sincerity and causes her young son to adore him yet throws them over in a moment so he can sucker punch a rival for his true love in a restaurant.
Which is worse: The callous behavior? The sucker punch? Or the total lack of concern when the battered man’s wife goes into labor?
It takes a certain kind of comedy with a much more astute feel for tone to get away with a scene that ugly.
But it isn’t a matter of one scene or one careless comment. It’s a matter of the filmmaker not really liking her characters at all. Or, perhaps worse, liking people who are total jerks simply because they are such jerks.
There might have been a worthy romantic comedy within this mess, but Headland pursues the currently fashionable penchant for raunch at the expense of her characters and not as a means of revealing them as Schumer did.
None of the action, comic or otherwise, comes off as believable but rather a search for laughs by a filmmaker unsure of what she wants to do with her material. Thus the tone shifts from scene to scene or even within scenes and the characters are unsure even of what they wish to be insincere about.
The two leads are just fine when not being led astray by their director. Sudeikis has a likable presence on screen, a kind of modern day Jimmy Stewart without the vocal ticks, while Brie is beautiful and funny and winsome.
You wind up wishing they could somehow, in Woody Allen fashion, step outside their trite characters and hook up as themselves.
Meanwhile the stock roles of best concerned friend (Jason Mantzoukas) to the male lead and best lesbian pal with wisecracks (an underutilized Natasha Lyonne) to the female lead should be banned from all rom-coms until further notice.
Opens: September 11, 2015 (IFC Films)
Production companies: A Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Gloria Sanchez Productions presentation of a Gloria Sanchez Production
Cast: Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Adam Scott, Jason Mantzoukas, Natasha Lyonne, Katherine Waterston, Adam Brody, Amanda Peet, Marc Blucas, Andrea Savage
Director/screenwriter: Leslye Headland
Producers: Sidney Kimmel, Jessica Elbaum, Adam McKay, Will Ferrell
Executive producers: Jim Tauber, Carla Hacken, Matt Berenson, Bruce Toll
Director of photography: Ben Kutchins
Production designer: Amy Williams
Music: Andrew Feltenstein, John Nau
Costume designer: Leah Katznelson
Editor: Paul Frank
R rating, 101 minutes